This is the beginning of the series Friendship in Curaçao: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Sad.
Why would friendship be different in Curaçao? Friendship is friendship anywhere: trust, good times, a ready shoulder, a twisted mind to plot with, a silly sense of humor to render you helpless on a couch laughing like a five-year-old. No?
You're right. But the mechanics are a bit different here.
Curaçao is ex-pat land. There's +40 different nationalities on this island, many imported by the bustling financial industry--banks, fiduciaries, accounting firms, the head offices of global manufacturing companies. These transplants tend to be experienced travelers who've been all over in the course of the career that brings them here; many have been ex-pats for years. Some are fresh-faced, at the dawn of their professional lives. Some come with families--spouses, children--but most come alone. And for this majority, work becomes life. Friendship, and even romance, will be found in the halls of the office if it is to be found at all.
Which is what makes friendship so special here. Not because it is hard to come by, but precisely because it isn't. The ex-pat bond is stronger than blood. On your first day in the office, you're walked around to meet your new colleagues, names--unpronounceable or all too familiar, there never seems to be a halfway--get thrown at you, and you hope no one will expect you to remember them by lunchtime. But these unfamiliar faces, if they're not on the phone with a client or racing with piles of documents to meet a deadline, smile like there's something familiar about you, like perhaps they know you from years ago and you, with your single-minded pursuit of success, have forgotten.
You, the lone ex-pat wolf, are no longer alone.
Friendship for ex-pats in Curaçao comes with the immediacy of a Polaroid. No hoops to jump through, no trial period. Why? Because everyone's been the new guy. We all understand the value of a drill to borrow, a partner for salsa lessons, a dinner that's not microwaved or came in a can. And Christmas. Religious or not, Christmas is a lonely time for ex-pats. Sure, some go home, especially at first. But the people with families tend to hoard December vacation days, and those without children are usually called on to cover for them.
And so your ex-pat life, the one that might've been solitary, becomes a flurry of beach BBQs, impromptu gatherings at home, Uruguayan cookouts, bottles of Chilean wine on a porch fueling transcendental conversation late into the night, business happy hours that have little to do with business. Before long, your Saturday morning grocery runs turn into social occasions. You're waving at every third car on the way to the office. You run into people you know every time you step into a restaurant.
Then one day, in the middle of your hectic day, the HR manager steps into your office. "This is Rogelio. He's going to be working with Arelí in Accounting."
It's your turn.